Somebody slipped Hollywood a dysfunctional family pill this year. Writers
are writing stories about it and the studios are buying them. It's not
exactly moving action pictures off the block but consider such parallel
universes as "A Love Story for
Bobby Long," "Around the
Bend," and others that fit this mold.
This mold filler offers a meandering portrait of a family bunch rendered
anemic by tragedy. True, there's reason to wander disconsolately and make no
meaningful contact with those you live under the same roof with when grief
takes its toll. The toll of this movie is that it depends on poignancy over
The high point of which occurs early in the first act when golden boy Matt
Travis (Kip Pardue), elder son, a winning swimmer with great potential, (the
probable "hero" of the title) commits suicide, leaving the family to cope
with the unexplainable. In this process, they each go their own way. Sandy
(Sigourney Weaver), aka "Mom," takes to rediscovering her Age of Aquarius
love for pot. Ben (Jeff Daniels), aka "Dad," turns into a despot at the
dinner table, when he's around at all. Unbeknown to anyone, he's taken a
leave from work and spends the better part of his days staring into space
from a park bench.
His problem is what the movie revolves around. The suicide has revealed that
the person he's lived for, to the exclusion of anyone else, was Matt. Matt
gone, he's having a tough time understanding the vacuum he's left with.
This absence of feeling value in anyone else around him is hurtful to Sandy,
but affects younger son Tim (Emile Hirsch, "The Mudge Boy") most of all. He
can't be Matt no matter what demands Dad makes or however much disappintment
he expresses. Unfortunately, Tim is all he's got now to achieve satisfaction
with and the $2,000 he's laid out for piano lessons doesn't seem to be paying
off. Tim is not a replacement hero.
It's him we feel for as he copes not only with the loss of his older brother
but the sinking idea that he was, in some way, responsible because he didn't
intercede to head off Matt's very bad choice when it might have been
possible. Tim doesn't think of himself as very attractive or accomplished
and, though Sandy expresses her great love and attachment to him throughout,
there's no positive enforcement coming from Dad. The lad has much to contend
with and we see much of the family derangement through his troubled eyes. As
for Matt's reasons for ending it all, we are left with a little guesswork.
The abiding estrangements make for a home with little warmth, and the
resolution heat-up in the last act doesn't provide the BTU's to compensate.
It's mostly a dull plate and a trying effort, though not without a
bit of amusement here and there. Weaver's Mom as a regressed junkie too
naive to avoid stepping into a trap of her own making is a high point and
reveals the lady's canny take on the humor component of humanity. She would
have been perfectly capable of pulling off a rip-roarer if a little more
edginess were allowed to creep in.
The rest of the cast does capable work though it might have played better
with someone other than Jeff Daniels to naturally provide his part a lighter
sense of irony. (Dennis Miller comes to mind). Emile Hirsch is natural and
unforced, making his central role one we can generate some interest in. The
biggest problem, however, is with writer-director Daniel Harris' lassitude in
providing much of it, requiring a degree of patience and a taste for the
low-key. In other words, this is an entry for the art houses.
~~ Jules Brenner